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Common Errors: Do’s & Don’ts in APA Writing
(Revised and adapted from various university published sources)
You are required to write a 5-page APA paper for this course.
DSM 5 Reaction Paper (15%)
The DSM 5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) is the latest edition published by the American Psychiatric Association (the other APA).
The main objective of this assignment is to introduce you to the most current edition of the DSM, familiarize yourself with how disorders are diagnosed, and be cognizant of the latest developmental disorders.
- Pick and research a disorder associated with a particular developmental stage.
- Write a 5 page (double spaced) reaction paper of the disorder (excluding title pg., abstract, & reference pgs.) and turn in to the professor on the due date per course outline.
- All papers need to be TYPED, DOUBLE SPACED ON STANDARD-SIZED PAPER (8.5 X 11 inches) WITH MARGINS OF 1 INCH ON ALL SIDES AND USE TIMES NEW ROMAN 12 POINT FONT. Each double-spaced page should contain approximately 300 words. All citations need to be in APA Style.
- It is assumed that all students taking this course are familiar with the American Psychological Association (APA) writing guide. The book contains extensive guidelines on how to write an academic paper and how to cite references. The guidelines are contained in the following book:
American Psychological Association (2009). Publication Manual of the American
Psychological Association (6th Edition). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
The following websites may also be helpful:
- Overall, this paper will test your knowledge and application of what you learned in class.
The following common errors guideline will help you in revising your drafts and conveying your thoughts in a clear and concise manner for your audience. Remember, just like they say that eyes are the window to the soul, your writing is the window to your thoughts/mind. You will be judged (unfortunately) by your writing and public speaking, so practice, practice, practice!!!
Common Errors in Psychology Writing
Affect and effect
Affect is either a noun or a verb.
Example: “Her affect was flat.” (noun) or “I want to affect a change with my…..” (verb).
Effect is a noun.
Example: “The effect was great.”
Number agreement between pronoun and referent
For example, “How a child reacts to their parents….” is incorrect because “child” is singular, but “their” is plural.
Another example: “As a child gets older they are able to ….” is also incorrect because “child” is singular and “they” is plural.
If possible, change the referent to plural, e.g., “How children react to their parents…” and “As children get older they are able to…..”
If it’s not possible to change the referent to plural, then use the singular form of the pronoun and alternate between masculine and feminine forms, or use “he/she” (which is not preferred).
Possessive of “it”
It seems that an apostrophe would be used for the possessive of “it,” for example, “It’s wet shining little nose ….,” but no apostrophe is used with “it.” (However, there is an apostrophe used when you are contracting “it is.” For example, “It’s a beautiful day.”)
Possessive and number
Be aware of number (singular or plural) in indicating possessive. For example, “…the mother’s baby…” (singular); “…. the mothers’ babies….” (plural); “….the children’s attachment strategy ….” (“children” is already plural, so the apostrophe is before the “s”).
Use of “and” and “&” for references within the text of your paper
When not in parentheses, use “and,” e.g., “Smith and Kline (2007) hypothesized….”
When in parentheses, use “&,” e.g., “…concluded that there were no sex differences on the dependent measure (Smith & Kline, 2007).”
et al. (and others)
There is a period after “al.,” but not “et.” For example, use “et al.”
List all authors in a reference the first time it is cited, and use et al. in later references to the same article.
Use of “subjects”
Avoid the use of the word “subjects.” The preferred choice is to be more specific in the description (e.g., “children” or “adolescents”) or use the generic term “participants.”
Use of “e.g.” and “i.e.”
e.g. means “for example.” (Note: this is not inclusive).
i.e. means “that is.” (Note: this is inclusive).
Writing in the first person plural (i.e., “we”)
Example of poor usage: “His observations showed many of the same attachment types we find in human relationships.”
Change to: “His observations showed many of the same attachment types found in human relationships.”
Writing in the second person (i.e., “you”)
Example of poor usage: “You want to be careful in making determinations of a mother-infant dyad’s attachment quality…”
Change to: “A student of attachment theory will want to be careful in making….”
Example of poor usage: “If you want to learn about attachment theory, you might start by reading…”
Change to: “Basic information about attachment theory may be found…”
Use of “who” and “that”
Use who for human beings; use that or which for animals and for things.
Example of poor usage: “The dogs who came when called were rewarded.” And “The
people that voted for this candidate were surprised.”
Change to: “The dogs that came when called were rewarded.” And “The people who voted for this candidate were surprised.”
Use of “their,” “there,” and “they’re”
Their is the possessive. It indicates that something belongs to them. For example: “My friends lost their luggage.”
There refers to a place, either concrete or abstract. For example: “The water fountain is over there.” Or, “There are many effective ways to study.”
They’re is the contraction of they and are. For example: “They’re the ones who make mistakes.”
Use of “than” and “then”
Than is a conjunction and is used in comparisons. For example: “I am taller than she is.” Or “These data are more robust than the data we collected previously.”
Then is always about time. For example, “We collected data, then we analyzed it, and finally we drew conclusions.” Or “Do this step first, then do the following.”
Use of chat abbreviations and text messaging
While APA acknowledges the use of some abbreviations such as state names (AZ, AK, CA, etc.), commonly accepted words (IQ, REM), names of tests (MMPI, WISC IV), or Latin abbreviations (etc., i.e., and e.g.), chat abbreviations or text messaging such as OMG or LOL are never appropriate in professional writing.
Using the word “well” to start a sentence
For example: “Well, the results did not come out as expected.” When speaking informally this is acceptable, but not in writing.
A 2012 Analysis:
The following will guide you through the most common APA style mistakes and offer you advice on how to avoid them when writing your own paper. We will start off with the general formatting of the paper; then, we will move on to citing sources and formatting the reference list.
Running Head and Page Numbers
Surprisingly, 86.3% of all papers either did not have a running head or a running head that was formatted incorrectly. In addition to this, 75% of all students who submitted a paper to us either did not include page numbers or, those that did, did not format them correctly.
Advice: The running head is a shorter version of the title that appears in the header of all pages. Even before you start writing the paper, make sure that you include a running head and page numbers in the text file. Also, check the proper way to format them according to the 6th Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (APA, 2009). Pay attention to the alignment, size, font and character length of the running head. Also, make sure that the page numbers appear in the upper right corner of the page.
In 2012, 72.7% of the authors who submitted a paper to us didn’t format the “Abstract” heading correctly or didn’t have an abstract in the first place.
Advice: The abstract is an essential part of your paper, so you should always make sure that you have one! Also, make sure that the abstract appears on a separate page and that its heading is formatted correctly. One common mistake that a lot of students do is formatting the heading in bold and/or italics. Quite on the contrary, this heading should be centered and formatted as the rest of the text.
In addition to problems with the abstract, 61.3% of the students who submitted to us did not include keywords in their paper. Keywords are very important, because they are used by indexing services and search engines to deliver the content that the user is searching for.
Advice: Keywords should be situated below the abstract and be formatted according to the recommendation in the 6th Publication manual (APA, 2009).
Most of the students who submitted their manuscripts were confused with the format of their headings. In fact, 86.3% of all papers had headings that were either of incorrect level or otherwise had problems with their format.
Advice: The headings are always one of the difficult parts when it comes to formatting your paper in APA style. The first thing you should do is to check the 5-level heading structure that can be found in the 6th Publication Manual (APA, 2009). Headings in research articles are easier to format because they follow a similar structure. However, literature review articles can be a bit more challenging. Any headings that appear at the same level should be equally important in the point you are trying to make. Headings that are level 2, 3 and so on usually elaborate on the section that they appear in.
Eighty-four percent of all papers submitted to us in 2012 had problems with in-text citations. Mistakes in this category include: incorrect use of ‘et al.’, spelling inconsistencies, incorrect use of commas and ampersands (i.e., &), as well as wrong order of multiple citations in a single parenthesis.
Advice: Citing sources accurately is an essential part in writing your paper. Make sure that you know the rules for citing works written by different number of authors. Additionally, check whether the names and the year of publication of your citations have been consistent throughout the text. If you find the authors’ names difficult to spell, use Copy and Paste to avoid mistakes. Be careful not to omit the comma and ampersand when citing a work written by three or more authors. Finally, do not forget that you need to order alphabetically all multiple citations that appear in a single parenthesis.
Other Less Common Mistakes
Figure 1 shows APA style mistakes that were encountered less frequently in the papers.
Figure 1. Other less common APA style categories that students found difficult in 2012.
Quotations can also cause some difficulties to students. One mistake that a lot of authors commit is that they forget to provide page numbers for direct quotations. It’s good to avoid this type of mistake because it can be time-consuming to go back and search for the page that the quotation was taken from, especially if you have quoted a lot of materials. Also, do not forget that there are different rules for quoting text that is longer than 40 words (see APA, 2009).
Seventy-seven percent of all authors who submitted to us in 2012 did not format the “References” heading correctly or did not include one in the first place. This result is very similar to the one concerning the “Abstract” heading because those two types of headings are formatted in the same way.
Advice: Before even writing your references, always make sure that you have a “References” heading. It should be centered and formatted just like the rest of the text.
The data analysis shows that 90.9% of all authors made three or more mistakes when formatting their references. While this number is very impressive, it includes a number of APA style mistakes such as: incorrect use of commas, full stops, ampersands, italics, or overall incorrect formatting of the different types of references.
Advice: The easiest way to avoid mistakes in the reference list is to use referencing software- there are some freeware programs that will do a very good job. They will save you a lot of frustration and also make it easier for you to organize your references. If you still want to format the reference list on your own, make sure that you know how to format the different types of references (e.g. books, journal articles, dissertations). Most of the other rules, such as the use of punctuation marks and formatting the title, follow the same logic and are relatively easy to learn. Here are a few very common mistakes in this category:
- One thing that a lot of students do is that they capitalize all major words in the title of the reference. You should remember that only the first word should be capitalized. If the title contains a colon or dash, the word immediately after it should also be capitalized.
- Be careful not to omit the ampersand when writing the reference for a work written by 2 or more authors.
- Make sure that you use intervals correctly- especially when writing the authors’ initials.
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)
Of all the papers that we received in 2012, 88.6% had one or more omitted DOIs. Providing DOIs for journal articles may seem like a trivial thing to do and that’s probably one of the reasons why a lot of students failed to do so.
Advice: Journal articles that are published online usually provide a DOI on the first page. Also, most journal publishers provide this kind of information on their website. A lot of articles that have been published in the last 10 to 15 years normally have DOIs, but it’s best if you check whether each article you are referencing has one.
In addition, there are some other less common APA style mistakes in referencing sources, as presented in Figure 2.
Figure 2. Other common APA style mistakes in the reference list.
Referring to mistakes made by students in the section of the references is the failure to list all cited sources in the reference list. This mistake can easily go unnoticed when you cite sources, but leave writing the references for later. The easiest way to avoid this mistake is to provide a reference for the cited source right away. Also, you can use the search engine in Word to see if all cited sources appear in the reference list (and vice versa). This strategy is also very effective for finding spelling inconsistencies between in-text citations and the reference list, a mistake that some 45% of the authors did.
While the correct formatting of your references is important, you should also pay attention to the general layout formatting of the reference list. For example, it should begin on a new page and the references should be formatted with hanging indentation (see APA, 2009).
Additionally, make sure that the references are ordered correctly. They should be ordered 1) alphabetically and 2) according to the number of authors and year of publication (if applicable).